A 400 Million Year Old Cemetery

What constitutes a cemetery? Do you ever think about the idea of a burying ground that transcends the strict and cultural definition of a traditional cemetery?

A 400 Million Year Old Cemetery?

What constitutes a cemetery? I understand there are legal classifications and procedural definitions. But, do you ever think about the idea of a burying ground that transcends the strict and cultural idea of a traditional cemetery?

Is a pet cemetery actually a cemetery? If humans designate land where they bury their pets, it certainly fits my definition of a cemetery. Is human interaction needed for it to be considered a cemetery? I’ve read about elderly elephants who are aware they are going to die. They migrate to ancient elephant graveyards where their relatives come to mourn their passing. There are no humans to designate this as a cemetery…but the elephants think it’s one. What about pre-historic graveyards; the final resting places of beings that lived millions of years ago? Is it unreasonable to stretch our imaginations by exploring the far reaches of what, actually, constitutes a cemetery?

Sometimes, I enjoy contemplating the actual definition of a cemetery. One of these internal contemplations happened on a trip to explore Cowan Cemetery.

Cowan Cemetery

I recently took a trip to Meigs County, Tennessee to visit Cowan Cemetery. This cemetery dates back to the 1850’s as a cemetery for Cowan family members. There are many fieldstones here denoting unnamed gravesites. A few of the fieldstone markers are hewn into triangular shapes. Though not perfectly angled, they remind me of endstones from tent gravesites found in some Tennessee cemeteries and other cemeteries in the southeast. One grave marker displays fantastic “Hand of God” symbology. The hand, clutching lilies and roses, is downward facing with an outstretched pointing index finger.

Cowan Cemetery is a short paddle away from an area known as Rattlesnake Point. Rattlesnake Point is where my Father’s family used to hold their yearly family reunions on the banks of the Hiwassee River. The Hiwassee River is a tributary of the Tennessee River. Its unique geology makes for joyful fossil hunting. I spent those family reunions searching for fossils on the banks of the Hiwassee river. I clearly remember the first time I found a fossil. Though my family wasn’t at all interested in my explorations, I fantasized that I would be recognized as a great dinosaur fossil hunter by the scientific community.

Fossilized Rock

In reality, the fossil I found wasn’t from the Dinosaur era. Instead, it was filled with Brachiopod fossils from the Devonian period. This geological period dates back 400 million years; long before Dinosaurs appeared on earth.

I often think back to my first fossil find and its influence on my interest in cemeteries. When you think about it, that rock is similar to a cemetery in that it is the final resting place for hundreds of beings. It’s kind of like a cemetery; a 400 million year old Brachiopod cemetery.